The Facebook generation

My parents said similar things about me and their parents said similar things about them but, nevertheless, I am going to say this about the kids of today.

Here’s a story of a young girl from New Jersey who joined Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Youth” Advisory Group because:

“I was in Canada in July near Halifax/St. John’s and saw the ship building factories with smoke billowing in the background.”

I know this source isn’t the New York Times but St. John’s is about 900 kilometres from Halifax so it would be hard to be near either one at the same time.  Second, I am not sure what ship building factories are but the Halifax Shipyard doesn’t have smoke stacks.

Of course she could have just stayed in New Jersey where there are 10 times the smoke stacks.

My point is not to question a young teen’s knowledge of geography (nor the editor/journalist in New Jersey). 

We seem to be raising a cohort of visceral 140 character, black & white thinkers.  Instead of thinking all industrial activity is ‘bad’ while driving cars, watching TVs, running electricity from coal in houses, burning carbon to fly to Africa, the younger generation needs to have a conversation about what they want to give up.  Outsourcing smoke stacks to India and China should be as upsetting to Al Gore’s youth advisory group as phantom smoke stacks in Halifax/St. John’s.

They (we) should have a serious conversation about what they want to give up.  They (we) are consuming more products and stuff than every before. We are eating more. 

I’ve said it here and in my column that I am very happy to have a conversation about ratcheting down consumption and moving back to more local production.  My son has one video game player (Wii) while most of his friends have at least two of the systems.  There are multiple TVs in every house.  Most teenagers have cell phones, laptops, 20 pairs of shoes. 

What I am not for is outsourcing all of our pollution to India and then patting ourselves on the back for being eco-friendly.  If we are going to produce natural gas and use it – I think we should do it here – responsibly – but we should reap the economic benefit here. 

Lowering our carbon footprint has to be about lowering our consumption over time.  I heard a podcast ysterday where a guy was adamant that for the U.S. to dig out of its huge fiscal hole, it will have to grow its GDP by 4-5% per year for the next 20 years. The U.S. is already the most over consuming nation in the world and we are going to more than double the size of the economy again over the next 15 years or so?

If we shift away from consumption and back a little more to local production, if we massively ratchet down our expections (one car, smaller houses, one TV, 2 Webkinz instead of 20, etc.) I believe we could have an orderly transition to a less consumptive world without breaking the economy and our way of life.

That’s the discussion I want kids to have – and a little basic geography for journalists.

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5 Responses to The Facebook generation

  1. I agree with most of what you written here –
    we do need to look at our consumption,
    we do need to realize that moving production offshore isn’t a solution,
    we do need to look at sustainable local agriculture.

    BUT – your indictment of “the facebook generation” is given entirely without context. While every cohort does complain about the next generation, our generation is completely in the dark if we chose to cite examples such as the one you’ve given without looking at what is really happening in society. Can you really discount the efforts of this young lady (which seem to me to be considerable and don’t even mention moving the problem offshore) because of her geographical error? Could she have meant “Saint John” where she would have seen smokestacks in the area where ships were once built?

    Don’t look only at how young people are consuming electronic gadgetry and social media – take a look at what they are producing with these tools. Our generation consumed media too, but what did we produce as teenagers, how did we contribute to the solutions?

    Young people today are more aware of each other, their communities, and the world in which they live than we were in the 1980s. Young people are embracing service learning, they are collaborating across borders, they are organizing movements and they are pushing to be heard on the issues we all face. ( http://twitter.com/studentvote, http://www.freethechildren.com/, http://www.globalyouthvoices.org/ etc)

    We need to find ways to bring all citizens, young and old, connected and not, into the conversation on what we need to give up. We need to start listening to the voices struggling to be heard because they ARE speaking.

  2. Actually I am quite optimistic about the Facebook generation. I believe they are prepared to right size our economic ambition – the challenge is to do it in a way that keeps our society and communities intact. My real point with this post is that I’d like young people to look at the smokestack and realize their goal should not be to eliminate the smokestack altogether (or ship it offshore) but to rethink how many smokestacks we need (i.e. consumption) and how can we do things smarter and with a lesser ecological footprint.

  3. It would be interesting to see how we can lower consumption while increasing GDP. I think there’s a paradox there that dooms us to either environmental or economic collapse, unless we can reorder our thinking.

    Straw-man stories about the ‘Facebook generation’ are not examples of that thinking.

  4. richard says:

    “That’s the discussion I want kids to have – and a little basic geography for journalists”

    It’s not just the Facebook generation that has this problem, we all do. If you confine yourself to NB’s economic situation for example, there is a huge knowledge gap out there that makes it very difficult to get much rational discussion from anyone. The social media being employed are irrelevant when most of the ‘information’ being distributed is crap. Our ability to distribute our thoughts has out-stripped our knowledge of the subject areas being discussed.

    “Young people today are more aware of each other, their communities, and the world in which they live than we were in the 1980s”

    1980s? Sheesh, some of us went thru that in the 60s. Nothing new here really, just the power to spread nonsense faster than ever before.

  5. mikel says:

    Actually, there was FAR more activism from youth in the 80’s than the 60’s, but the major groundwork had already been laid. The activism had gone mainstream, which was why when the US invaded Vietnam nobody even thought about it. Noam Chomsky said that in the early sixties the protests would have about 8 people in a room. By the 80’s, the only way that the US could surreptitiously send troops overseas was with massive propaganda campaigns claiming that impoverished Guatemalans were storming towards Texas border. People forget that the ‘war on terror’ began in the 80’s, not 90’s.

    But of course there is the same old problem, when you have no power, what is the point of ‘engaging in conversation’. While its true there is tons of rubbish, Richard really doesn’t know what he’s talking about in reference to the NBPower debate because there was far more research on there than he suspects. Of course there was rubbish too, but I remember hearing the quote that ‘if you want to be indoctrinated, go to school, if you want to be educated, go to the library’. So what is ‘rubbish’ to one person may well be pertinent information to another. Of course there is the problem of BAD information, but again we have a perfect example in the NBPower debate, where it has turned out that virtually EVERYTHING the government stated as ‘fact’ has turned out to be lies. In fact, I was on facebook and I can tell you there were more lies from the government than on facebook-and almost even on a grander scale in some cases.

    The problem here is that New Brunswicks GDP can EASILY rise 3-5% without much environmental effect. We know that ‘industry’ has to be used to make those solar cells that were going to come from Miramichi, but thats a far different industry than an oil refinery.

    As for energy use, there’s a reason why electronics has been one of the most active industries in reducing its ecological footprint-and thats that youth are making the environment one of their purchasing choices. If you find an old guy with a 30 year old television, he will use more electricity than all the gadgets most youth have combined. There are more solar chargers out there for small gadgets than you can shake a stick at. Yes, it takes energy to make them, but each new product brings the technology to a new stage. And also, industry itself is more energy effecient than it used to be.

    So youth certainly don’t have to give up their gadgets, particularly if you consider that the microwave has pretty much taken over for the stove, which means the average youth uses FAR less energy than we did growing up. So I think the whole conservation/reduction thing is a bit of a red herring. Good for that girl for joining an organization, and sometimes good things can even come from bad information.

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